Gospel + suffering = more gospel.
The Source of Paul’s joy in suffering is actually the clearest demonstration of God using suffering to advance the Gospel. That Source is Jesus himself.
12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
We live in a culture that does everything necessary to avoid suffering. After all, we deserve comfort, don’t we? The Apostle Paul views suffering quite differently in this passage. He looks deep down the corridor of God’s purposes and declares to his Philippian brothers and sisters that God has used his suffering to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul would have been chained to a guard day in and day out. Where this might drive us to introspection and despair, Paul used the opportunity to declare the gospel to the whole Imperial Guard. In fact, the gospel was advancing more with Paul chained to a prison guard more than it would if he was roaming free. It was a bold declaration that gospel preachers may be bound, but the gospel of God cannot.
Not only did the gospel advance through Paul’s imprisonment, but it advanced among the Christians in Philippi. Many of the people in the church had become “much more bold to speak the word without fear.” Notice the snowball effect here: Paul is imprisoned for the gospel. The gospel advances through that imprisonment. The gospel then advances in the church of Philippi.
We can infer from this verse that the Philippians had grown fearful and timid before Paul’s imprisonment. The good news of Jesus Christ was advancing at a rapid rate, and the Spirit of God used suffering as his vehicle of change.
This is where things get personal. Paul points out some men preaching Christ with the purpose of making Paul’s chains heavier. They envied his ministry and saw his present circumstances as a means of exalting themselves and their own ministry.
Is there anything more opposed to Christ and his humility (Phil. 2:5-8)? For the competitor in most people, this would be very difficult to endure, knowing the motivation of these men. Yet, Paul has already come to the conclusion that the gospel is advancing despite him being in chains.
At the core of Paul’s rejoicing in suffering is the person and work of Christ. He knows that whatever the motives of others are, all that matters is Christ being proclaimed. The God who can use suffering to advance the gospel is the same God who can use the false motives of others to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knew this was not the first time suffering had been used to advance the gospel.
The Source of Paul’s joy in suffering is actually the clearest demonstration of God using suffering to advance the Gospel. That Source is Jesus himself. Jesus suffered the worst death in human history, but in being lifted up on the cross for all to see, the gospel advanced to people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.